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Pointing Dog Blog

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Filtering by Tag: NAVHDA

Less is More.

Craig Koshyk

UPDATE: Leo earned a perfect score of 112/112!

This weekend I will be running my new pup Léo in a NAVHDA Natural Ability test hosted by the Red River Chapter near Fargo. Born last December, he will be too old to run next summer – the age limit is 16 months – so I am running him at 8 months of age before he's ever really hunted and without any formal training by me. But that's OK, in keeping with his French heritage, I'm following the take it easy and 'less is more' philosophy of bringing a bird dog along. So on test day, my goal is to just have fun, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

For those unfamiliar with the test, here is what's involved. (From the NAVHDA website, with my notes added):

The Natural Ability Test is organized into four main segments:

1) Field Phase - Each dog is hunted for a minimum of 20 minutes and is evaluated on:

  • Use of Nose
  • Search
  • Pointing
  • Desire
  • Cooperation
  • Gun Shyness
During this phase you walk through a field in more or less the same way you would if you were out hunting (or rough shooting as my UK friends call it).  While you 'hunt' with your dog, one judge walks with you while two others (and one or two apprentices) follow further behind.

A few minutes into the run, a gunner further back fires a blank from a shotgun, twice. The judges want to see if the shot affects the dog in a negative way. So far Leo has shown no reaction to gunfire other than to look over towards the sound, if that. So I think he will be fine in that regard, but it will be interesting to see how he reacts to 'hunting' in a field with a half dozen people around. I've only ever run him by myself, but I'm pretty sure he will just ignore the others and have fun searching for game.

Prior to each dog's turn pen-raised birds, usually Chukar partridge, are placed in the field. If all goes well, the dog finds some birds and points them. Unlike the higher levels of NAVHDA testing, in NA tests, the dog does not have to wait until the handler flushes the bird. As long as it points for a few seconds, it should get a decent pointing score. 

Léo seems to have a strong natural point. I've seen him point rabbits in the city and the occasional song bird in the field. I worked him on planted pigeons a couple of times and he pointed them well. He has even shown a tendency to back (honour) other dogs on point. But Léo hasn't been exposed to game birds yet. We avoided wild birds over the summer since they were nesting or had young chicks and I don't have access to pen-raised Chukars. So when we hit the field in the NA test, I will just cross my  fingers and hope that Léo's instincts kick in when he comes across birds.

Another thing judges look for during this phase is how well the dog hunts with and for the handler. They want to see a certain amount of independence from the dog, but don't want it to take off for the horizon. Then again, they don't really want to see the dog amble about mere meters from the handler either.  Ideally, the dog will hunt at a suitable range for hunting according to the the conditions of the day; not too far, not too close. It should also show a decent amount of drive and respond to commands (if any) given by the handler.

When I take Léo out to the fields around here, he runs at a medium to fast gallop, holds his head just above the shoulder line, and makes casts out to about 75 yard. But, as mentioned, he hasn't really been on game birds before. So I wouldn't be surprised if he opens up even more once he realizes that there are birds in the field. He may even fall slightly deaf to my whistle or commands. So my plan is to just keep my yapper shut and hope that he doesn't disappear over the horizon on a bird-fueled bender.

2) Tracking Phase - The dog is given an opportunity to track a flightless running pheasant or chukar.
During this phase, one pheasant for each dog is placed in a field and coaxed into running downwind for about 50 yards. The dog is then brought to where the bird was first released so that it can (hopefully) follow the track to the bird. If the dog does follow the track and manages to find the bird, it can point it or fetch it up. It doesn't really matter. It doesn't really have to find the bird to get a good score. What the judges want to evaluate is how well the dog can actually follow a track.

In theory, this should be a relatively easy job for a well-bred gundog. The bird should leave a decent scent trail behind it and the dog should be able to follow it fairly well. But there are tons of variables involved, from the humidity (or lack thereof) of the air and grass, to the length of the cover, to how far and fast the bird went, so no matter how much prep you do for this phase, or how well your dog did in any practice tracks you've done, it is always a complete crap shoot on test day.

I've done exactly zero prep for this phase with Léo. I might get one practice track in this weekend if I can find a pheasant, but in all likelihood, the track at the test will be Léo's first. And I don't really know how it will go. Léo loves to run and he runs with a high head. So he may follow the trail for a bit, but then decide that it's best to just go into field search mode instead of track mode. Or he may track it perfectly well. I've seen him follow a rabbit track for over 100 yards, so I know he has some tracking instincts. In any case, just as in the field search portion, I will cross my fingers and hope for the best.

3) Water Phase - The dog is tested for its willingness to swim.
The only problem I have with Léo and water is getting him OUT of it! So I am pretty sure he will do well in this portion of the test.

4) Judgment of Physical Characteristics.
The following are judged throughout the Natural Ability Test:
  • Use of Nose
  • Desire to Work
  • Cooperation
  • Physical Attributes
No game is shot, and no retrieves are required during the Natural Ability Test.

From what I can tell, Léo has very good nose and his desire for work and cooperation are excellent. He really is an outstanding pup in every way. He's super easy to live with, friendly, loves to hunt and cuddle, and is pretty darn handsome as well. We are really pleased with him and look forward to many hunting seasons with him.

But for now, I need to pack my bags and then do some stretches for my fingers...they will be crossed all weekend!


Craig Koshyk

Who goes to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for a weekend in January? Crazy dog people like me, that's who!

The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association held its annual meeting in Sioux Falls this past weekend and it was a blast!! Not only did I get to meet a ton of great people and talk dogs over fine food and adult beverages, I was given the tremendous honour of delivering the keynote address!

Yes, you read that right. Me, a guy who might hold the record for the lowest passing score ever in a NAVHDA test was given a microphone and a soapbox in a room filled with the who's who of the NAVHDA world.

I did my best to keep the speech short and to the point (pun intended). I managed to cover about 500 years of pointing dog evolution and explained how NAVHDA is now absolutely crucial to their further evolution in North America. I concluded with the following thoughts:

The golden age of gundog creation ended about a hundred years ago. The modern age of gundog development came to an end in the early 2000s. And that means we are now in a new age, a post-modern age of gundogs and all the traditional structures that led to the creation and development of our dogs are in flux.*

We now produce puppies via artificial insemination and analyze their DNA. We vaccinate them and inject microchips under their skin. We transport them across the ocean in airliners and through the marsh on all terrain vehicles. We keep track of them with the help of satellites floating in the sky above and can now access more information about them in a few minutes on our smartphones than William Arkwright or Jean Castaing could have accessed in a year in the biggest library in the world.

So dog breeds, breeders, breed clubs and registries all face a choice now. They can evolve, or wither on the vine. Currently some of the most influential structures in the canine world are paying the price for their reluctance or inability to evolve. Memberships are in free-fall, boards are floundering, wracked with internal conflict. 

And then there's NAVHDA, an organization well-positioned to actually thrive in this new knowledge-based society.  You see, in our high-tech global world, information and communication are king. They are the dominant driving forces behind just about every aspect of life. So for an association like NAVHDA, designed from the get-go to collect, store and share information, this new age might just turn out to be a new golden age.

After all, when we are in the fields with our dogs, we are following in the footsteps of Gaston Phebus. And every time we test a dog we pay homage to Hegewald and Oberlander, Solms and Korthals. But even as we honour the past, NAVHDA's main focus is, and always has been, firmly on the future. NAVHDA has but one real purpose: to help shape the future for hunters, breeders and their canine companions.

Prior to the main event, I gave a seminar about the Continental pointing breeds, using a number of photos and videos from this very blog. Here are links to some of the things I mentioned in the talk for those in attendance that would like to see them again:

And finally, thank you to everyone who purchased a copy of my book and my apologies to those that wished to purchase a copy but were unable to do so after all copies were sold. If you would like to order one, you can get it at the same price it was selling for at the meeting. 

Just go to this link and look for the coupon code box above and to the right of the BUY NOW button. Type in NAVHDA and instead of paying the usual $99.00, you will get the book for only $79 with free shipping!!

* UPDATE: I've been asked to expand a bit on the idea of the various gundog eras I spoke about. I will do so in much more detail in my next book, Pointing Dogs,Volume Two: The British and Irish Breeds, but for now, here is a quick overview:

The National Bird Dog Championship, one of the greatest and oldest events in canine sport starts next Monday, Feb 8, 2016. First held in1896, the National Bird Dog Championship was a key player in what I think of as the golden age of gundogs. During that time, breeders, handlers, trainers and trialers all made great leaps of progress. Breed clubs and registries were formed, established breeds became more uniform and reached new heights of performance and most of the Continental breeds were created around that time. 

But all that ended just before the first World War as the British breeds began their long decline into near obscurity in their native lands and the creation of new breeds of pointing dogs ceased completely.

And that is when I feel we entered into the modern age, characterized by continued growth and development of the British breeds outside of the UK and the rapid expansion of various continental breeds throughout North America. It is the age of the GSP, the Brittany, the GWP, Pudelpointer etc. and the continued rise of the Pointer and Setter. It was an age when a growing middle class of Americans and Canadians swelled the field trial ranks, when new trials and trial formats were developed and new clubs, new registries, organizations flourished. And it was a time when news and marketing of the gundog scene relied on newspapers, magazines, books and to a lesser extent radio and TV.

But that age came to an end just after the advent of the Internet, around the early 2000s. Almost overnight, everything changed. Yes, we still have trials and tests and yes, our dogs continue to improve. But the average age of participants across the gundog world is creeping upward and many club membership numbers are in decline. Few, if any new clubs are being formed, few if any new trial venues or formats are being created and we no longer rely on the traditional media to spread the word, we rely on the Internet, just as you and I are doing right now. And as I said in my speech:

"We now produce puppies via artificial insemination and analyze their DNA. We vaccinate them and inject microchips under their skin. We transport them across the ocean in airliners and through the marsh on all terrain vehicles. We keep track of them with the help of satellites floating in the sky above and can now access more information about them in a few minutes on our smartphones than William Arkwright or Jean Castaing could have accessed in a year in the biggest library in the world." And to me, that is what defines what I think of as the post-modern world of gundogs. It is smaller, faster, more knowledge-based and information dependant. It is an era in which we will probably see breakthroughs in canine genetics that will astonish us. I recently read a paper by a fellow I know in Germany. He and his team think they've found the area of dogs' genetic code that determines pointing behaviour (link below). Will we one day soon have genetically modified dogs like we know have genetically modified corn? I have no idea. But even posing a question like that 20 years ago would have been crazy. Nowadays, it is probably being studied by someone in a lab coat. We are beyond the modern age. We are now in a sort of post modern age for gundogs. Hang on to your hat, it's going to be an interesting ride!

*Homozygosity mapping and sequencing identify two genes that might contribute to pointing behavior in hunting dogs:

Enjoy my blog posts? Check out my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals

Awkward Snapshots Part II: Can't Stand the Heat

Craig Koshyk

A friend of mine is Chinese... and a very cheap drunk.

A sip of beer makes him flush beet-red. After half a beer, he is on the dance floor flopping around like Iggy Pop having a seizure. If he ever drank two beers - something he would never do - I'm pretty sure he'd look like Jacky Chan on a meth binge for about 5 minutes then fall into a coma.

He can get drunk just by watching a beer commercial mainly because of his genes. He is from an an ethnic group (East Asian) that has low levels of the liver enzyme that breaks down alcohol. And over the weekend, the reason my buddy's Longhaired Weimaraner named Zeiss did not get a prize one in his UT test is probably also because of his genes: he lacks the ability to function well in the heat.

Uma, our Ponto is the same. As soon as it gets to T-shirt temps outside, forget even trying to run her for more than 10 minutes. The build, coat, and genetic predisposition just will not allow it. Of course when the temps dip to hat-and-scarf territory, watch out. Both Zeiss and Uma will go all day, every day.

So during the field search portion of his test, Zeiss covered the ground at a gallop for about the first 15 minutes or so. But it was 86 degrees that day and with the humidity it probably felt like he was running on the surface of the planet Mercury.

In a fur coat.

With mittens.

By the 20 minute mark Zeiss was trotting. At 25 minutes he was no longer reaching out. By the time the judges called "time" he was practically at heel, tongue dragging on the ground. Despite his handler pouring water on his head, he simply could not shed enough heat to keep going. Its a good thing he is a sensible dog. He slowed down to avoid burning up completely. Henri is just too dumb right now to ease off the gas when he starts to overheat. Last year he took off after a deer on a hot day and came back wobbly and disoriented. Good thing there was a cool creek nearby to soak him in. He was fine, but it scared the bejeebus out of me.

I have heard that low heat tolerance is a Weim thing. Certainly none of mine are very good in high temps. They much prefer a little frost on the pumpkin as it were. But I think most other breeds share the same traits. In 2003 in South Dakota, on a very hot opening day an estimated 100 (yes one hundred) hunting dogs of all kinds of breeds actually DIED of heat stroke!

The heat exhaustion from the field must have carried over to Zeiss's duck search. From all reports he looked like he was trying his best, slogging through thick mud and reeds but about half way through he just did not have the energy left to put on a prize one performance.

But he did pass the test! He earned a prize III and the respect of those who where there watching him run under the hot sun wearing a double layered fur coat!

Awkard Snapshots Part 1

Craig Koshyk

Anyone who runs their dog in a hunt test like those offered by NAVHDA or the VHDF realizes that what the judges see is just a snapshot of the dog on the day of the test. The dog may be good or bad or somewhere in between, but how it performs on test day is what is recorded on paper.

One of my dogs ran his NAVHDA UT this weekend, and the snapshot that developed could be in the hall of fame on one of the best sites on the net: Awkward Family Photos.

The site features a collection of the kinds of family photos we all have. You know, the ones of special occasions when everyone puts on their best photo face and favorite outfit...but when we look at the image now we can’t help but cringe?

But it is not really a sense of horror or shame that makes us cringe. I think it is more of a tender sympathy for the awkwardness of the photo and knowing that we have ALL been there. We all have awkward family photos tucked away somewhere in our photo albums. And now I have a new awkward snapshot of my own to file away. It is a big, glossy snapshot of Henri, my 2 year old Weim, without a doubt the most gifted, athletic dog I have ever owned.

Here's how the image was made:

Over the course of last year's hunting season I saw so much potential in Henri, I thought he would be ready for UT level training this year. But since I am, at best, a mediocre trainer and I really needed more time to finish off my book project, I decided to send him to one of the most well respected pro trainers out there, Al Burhart. Al agreed to train him and then run him in the UT.

For the most part, the training went very well, Al really liked Henri and Henri settled in to kennel life easily. But I think I may have miscalculated, I probably sent him a year too soon.

In retrospect, I can now see that over the summer, Henri turned into a typical teen. If he were human he would probably have a mohawk hairdo and be yearning to get a dozen tattoos. But he was sneaky about it, he actually waited until test day to reveal his "new look" to Al and the judges. So the snapshot that we got was the equivalent of the captain of the high school wrestling team showing up for class pictures in a t-shirt that says F##$% You and then choking the photographer out with an arm-triangle.

You see, Henri is the kind of dog that lives to gobble up a field at 100 miles an hour and churn up the marsh searching for a duck. His test scores perfectly reflect that. In every category that evaluates natural ability and drive …stamina, field search, duck search, pointing, desire… he earned the highest scores, all 4’s. But when it came to steadiness, the snapshot clearly caught that F##$% You t-shirt he was wearing. In fact, on the Saturday, Henri did not even prize due to a low steadiness score. Al ran him again on the Sunday and managed to steer him to a prize 2.

I visited Al the next day to collect Henri and he ran him through his paces. The snapshot on that day was pretty. I saw a hard hunting, happy dog with good manners. Henri still had all the "go" and style I could ask for and handled well, was steady to wing, shot and fall and was exactly where I want him to be for the upcoming hunting season.

But as he ran, I could see a sort of teenage edge about him. He was in control, but only just. I could see he is in his “terrible-two’s” right now and Al agrees. He knows Henri has what it takes to earn a prize one and more. And like the true pro he is, Al took the awkward snapshot of the weekend in stride. He said "Years ago, I would have been looking for hole to crawl into when he came unglued. But now, I know that it's just one day, one snapshot of the dog. Henri is a nice dog, and he loves to really get out there and roll. You will just need to keep on him for a while until it all sinks in".

And that is exactly what I am going to do. Henri's upcoming hunting season will be a training season. I want him to have fun, hunt his butt off, but I will also expect good manners. And I know I will need to rely on the most powerful tool in a trainer's tool box and the greatest asset of a parent of a teenager...patience. Henri needs time to grow up, to lose the mohawk and desire for tattoos and settle back into his normal temperament.

The whole situation reminds me of a now famous photo of President and Mrs. Obama with Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his family. The Zapatero daughters were clearly “going through a phase” at the time and when they look at the snapshot a few years from now, I am sure they will cringe. But I am also sure they will laugh a bit at how awkward they were, just as we should all laugh at how awkward each of us...and our dogs...can be!

Next: Awkward Snapshots Part II: Can't Stand the Heat!